Elisa & Marcela press conference with Isabel Coixet, Greta Fernández and Natalia de Molina
Should Berlinale (and essentially any film festival) be big-screen purists when fielding submissions? This is the squabble that surrounded the premiere of Spanish director Isabel Coixet’s latest work Elisa & Marcela, arguably overshadowing the film itself (although categorically speaking, it’s a feature that could be overshadowed by watching paint dry). At the movie’s world premiere, there was even a small contingent of protesters, brandishing signs that read, “Kino statt Stream Festival” (cinema, not a streaming festival). The official Berlinale stance is that the festival will consider any picture that is intended for cinematic release. As vaguely worded as this might sound, it indemnifies Berlinale to some extent, as Netflix plans to release the film in cinemas across Spain. Coixet’s latest release is a disappointingly turgid experience, one that is hardly elevated by being seen on a big screen. Elisa & Marcela tells the real-life story of the titular pair, who, through a rather obvious bluff, managed to become the first (and so far, the only) same-sex couple to be married by Spain’s Catholic church, all the way back in 1901. As could have been expected, the Netflix question loomed over the press conference as Coixet and the movie’s stars spoke to the media.
The director began by pointing out that her feature predated the current Netflix model, saying, “When I wrote the script, Netflix didn’t exist. Well, they sent DVDs to your home, but that didn’t work in Spain. For me, this is a film. I never thought about who is going to pay for it. I just wrote the script, I tried to find financing for ten years, and nobody was really interested in doing it. Then I found Rodar y Rodar, a production company in Barcelona, and they asked me, ‘would you mind if we took the project to Netflix?’ And I said, ‘no of course not, sure.’ And they liked it. They said OK.”
She said the streaming giant was very accommodating of certain stylistic decisions and were supportive of her goal to have the picture screened in cinemas as well as on Netflix. “The first line of the script, that was a problem ten years ago. Maybe not now, but ten years ago. It said that this is a film in black and white. They didn’t have a problem with that. We had a very low budget. This is a low-budget film, made in four weeks. I was so passionate about the story, and I was like, ‘I really want to do this film.’ The only thing I said, and I said it in the first meeting (with Netflix), was that this was a film that I saw as being on a big screen. They agreed from the first moment, and the company that’s going to distribute the film in Spain, they’re here (at Berlinale), and this is not just a compromise to have the film here.”
Fernández spoke about the difficulty in playing the role, remarking, “I think the most difficult thing was the clothes, and the way you talk, because it was a different moment, and we’re so far away from there. But the feelings – well, feelings are kind of international, so I guess we all feel love the same way, so it wasn’t that hard. It was really easy to work with Natalia, and it was really easy to work with Isabel. I really enjoyed playing the character because I always wanted to do a love story actually. I think as an actor, to do a love story is really, I don’t know. It’s beautiful.”
Her co-star de Molina mentioned that she had been involved with the project for quite some time, giving her an opportunity for research: “I’ve known ever since 2016 when Isabel contacted me about this film – I knew I would be in it, and up until the time when we actually shot, I was able to invest a lot of time in studying these women, and the area in Galicia, to acquire a lot of information. But Isabel told me that there’s a lot of information that is probably fake, or wrong about their relationship. So after getting all that information, and understanding the story that she was trying to tell, and understanding Isabel’s perspective, I realised that this story is narrated through the memories of Greta’s character. I didn’t know Greta yet, and I think we only met two or three times before shooting, so you have to get the chemistry going in order to show a true love story.”
Coixet also mentioned the spectre of Netflix having a presence at major film festivals, stating, “I don’t think it’s fair for the film, for these girls (Fernández and de Molina), and in the name of “culture,” that we have to take this film out of competition? I’m sorry, but that’s not culture. The culture has to be about respecting the author, and I think that saying the film does not deserve to be here is not respecting the author.”
Photo: Andreas Rentz/ Getty Images
Elisa & Marcela does not have a UK release date yet. Read our review here.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Elisa & Marcela here: